What you get for R10-00.
I was leaving Fish Hoek’s only little mall to cross Main Road. A man (for these stories I have to specify: an ordinary-looking Coloured man of about 30) was sitting against a pillar. He was not begging, but when he saw me really see him, he brightened and sat up straight. “Please,” he said, “can you give me R4? I am thirsty and I want to buy a drink.”
I did a mental knee-jerk. “Do you want to buy alcohol?” I asked. I already knew I was going to help him, but THAT is what came out of my mouth. Then I remembered the drought and that drinking water wasn’t easy to find. After that I realised that R4 would buy no alcohol of any sort. He looked a bit taken aback, but just muttered something. Then he saw that I was offering him R10 and said thank you as he took it, but the brightness was gone.
Of course the brightness was gone. I had lost the chance to be a fellow human being. What on earth is wrong with me, I thought as I crossed the road. Did I imagine that R10, not enough for a good cup of coffee, bought me the right to judge and dictate? No, no, that isn’t me, I yelled back at myself. Isn’t it? Then why didn’t you say something harmless like Yes, it’s hot today? Entitled, arrogant, that’s what I was; still locked into all the prejudices I had been listening to since my childhood. Heck, I wish he could afford a beer! Whatever his story was, his life had been much harder than mine.
I noticed that another white woman had been watching me and was just opening her car door. She gave me a broad, approving smile. That was something; an awful lot of whites would say R10 was too much; don’t give money for nothing; don’t encourage begging… I took comfort from her smile. She hadn’t heard what I said and thought I was building better relationships. Bless her heart.